PART I: EXCAVATION
Our histories lie in rubble, buried upon a dead rock spinning under a forgotten sky. Our futures lie in waiting, buried within this magnificent beast traversing the stars we now call home.
—Matris Otoasa, 438 years after exodus
OF OLD FRIENDS AND NEW AWAKENINGS
Our family's stasis pod seems impenetrable as I rub my hand over the inner surface, looking for the exit seam. I'd underestimated the depth of the darkness that would saturate the pod, and without vision, without hearing—and with my mouth and lungs and stomach filled with sleep balm—touch is the only tool to help me escape.
I feel the flesh of my mothers and fathers beneath me, bodies limp and near lifeless as they await the construction of our new world. Me, I am not that patient. This is my first excavation, and I don't intend to miss it. Matris, my head-mother and our clan's matriarch, had been raised from our pod well before my sedatives wore out, probably as soon as the herd was in sight. My fingers twitch, imagining Matris as she took aim and dealt the crippling final blow to the spacefaring beast. At our next exodus, Matris promised that she would let me drive the helm, but that is still some twelve years off.
I can't wait a moment longer, though, knowing all that is going on around me.
Beneath my desperate hands, the soft nap of the stasis pod goes to partially healed scar tissue, smooth and thin. I pull the bone shard I'd smuggled in here, my laugh a silent jiggle of liquid-filled lungs. If Matris knew her accountancy guards had missed it during their oh-so-thorough inspection, she'd have them strung up by their thumbs for a week.
The incision I make is slow and precise, matching the original hair for hair. I can't leave any evidence of my excursion. A gentle blue light seeps through the cut. I push apart the layers and press my head through. Air hits my face, and the instinct to cough catches me by surprise. Sleep balm spews from my mouth and my nose, as sweet air fills them, quickly washing away a metallic aftertaste.
"Daidi's bells," I curse upon the memory of every heart-father there ever was. I quickly recoil, covering my mouth with balm-slick hands. I'd imagined my first words on this new world would be something more profound, something graceful and fitting of the clan's future matriarch.
The cargo hold feels more like a crypt, half-full oblong sacks just large enough to house the families who opted to sleep through the construction. In a few months, they'll wake up to a perfect replica of their former homes, detailed down to every chip in their countertops, every scuff upon their sickle-scaled floors, right on down to the creak of the boneboards beneath. Matris says they have forgotten that we are nomads and that it is for the best. It is better for them to focus their efforts on infusing the economy and advancing technology than worrying over the droll trivialities of beastwork...
Beastwork. The promise of seeing our new beast before the excavation work begins thrills me to my core. I don't know why anyone would opt to sleep this time away when they could be witnessing the workers sinking their siphons into the first artery. I'd practically begged Matris to be woken early, but she insisted that this was a delicate time for her, and she didn't need the distraction of family as critical decisions were being made.
I hope I'm not too late. I hurry, pulling my body through the incision that I now realize is too narrow for my hips. I twist, trying to finesse my way through. My feet find purchase on the familiar ripple of my bapa's abdomen and the indistinguishable arm crook of one of my mothers. The delicate seam tears, running jagged this way and that. I ignore the pit in my stomach. It is still early. Maybe it will heal in time. Maybe I can bribe the accountancy guards to look the other way instead of tattling to Matris.
"Psst, Seske!" comes a voice from inside the hold. Adalla's voice for sure, but I don't see her.
"Where are you?" I whisper.
"Here," Adalla says. She peeks out from a stack of deflated pods and smiles at me, her hands and face already darkened by the beast's blue-green ichor.
I clench up, my stomach raw and sore with disappointment. "I've missed the first letting."